Working on Food Access during a Pandemic

Molly Costigan

Molly Costigan

Sustainable Food Center

Molly Costigan is the Program Director for Sustainable Food Center’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre®. In that capacity, she manages the free six-week cooking and nutrition series, including the Cooking After Cancer series.  Molly joined the SFC team in 2011 as a community health organizer through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. She is a graduate of Elon University and a former recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Student Grant in Spain. She is a member of the Austin Cancer Support Coalition and the Central Texas Diabetes Coalition.

Sustainable Food Center (SFC) is an Austin-based non-profit with roots going back over 40 years. Our mission is to cultivate a just and regenerative food system so that people and the environment can thrive.

Usually, that means that we’re running bustling farmers’ markets, including a sampling tent, live music, kids’ activities, and more. We’re leading free cooking and gardening classes with take-home groceries and gardening supplies. We’re hosting a resource giveaway day where hundreds of Central Texans pick up free seeds, plants, and compost to kick start their spring gardens.

Spring 2020 was different. Our in-person classes were postponed. The SFC Farmers’ Markets remained open as an essential food access point, but with more face masks and handwashing and fewer fun additions. Rather than bringing people together to collect garden resources, we started mailing seeds out.

Breast Cancer Resource Center and SFC usually connect through the free Cooking After Cancer series offered by SFC’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® twice a year. Two of the instructors for this series also lead a small cooking club with former Cooking After Cancer participants. Members meet a few times a year to cook and eat together, and they make extra portions to freeze for BCRC to deliver to clients.

We haven’t been able to host either of these so far this year, but we’re working on virtual class plans and updated safety procedures that will allow us to re-launch this fall.

In the meantime, we wanted to share some information on SFC resources that are available.

Maybe your food budget hasn’t changed significantly, but you’d feel safer shopping in a small pop-up grocery or in the open-air environment of a farmers’ market.

Maybe you’re accessing SNAP or WIC benefits for the first time and are wondering about spending them on local produce.

Maybe you’re planting a garden, or you just need new recipe ideas.

Whatever your situation, this can be a good time to connect, re-connect, or stay connected to your local food system and to practice healthy cooking and eating habits.

  • SFC Farmers’ Markets are open with extra safety measures in place and are still running Double Up Food Bucks (doubling SNAP & WIC benefits). Here we have some tips for shopping the market in its new form.
  • We’re also participating in the Neighborhood Pop-Up Grocery Project that partners with local restaurants to sell high-quality meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and pantry staples at affordable prices. Look for one in your neighborhood!
  • We’re not offering the full Happy Kitchen series online yet, but we’re sharing recipes and cooking tips on Sustainable Food Center’s Facebook, Instagram, and on our blog.
  • We also released a new edition of our Happy Kitchen cookbook! It includes 101 recipes that are quick, affordable, and delicious. Print copies are fully bilingual in English and Spanish and available for $27 with shipping (shipping is taking a little longer than usual, but we are now accepting print orders). Digital editions can be downloaded in English or in Spanish and are $10. If you’re a past participant in the program, look for an email in the coming weeks about a discount.
  • SFC’s Spread the Harvest program provides garden resources for people under 275% of the federal poverty line (that’s about $72,000 for a family of four, and the full chart for all family size is on the website). Members can currently request seeds by mail. Income is self-reported with no proof of eligibility required, so families can submit an application based on their current financial situation.

We so appreciate everything BCRC does to offer emotional, physical, and financial support to their clients. We’re grateful for their help promoting our Cooking After Cancer series through the years and for their partnership in delivering meals from the cooking club. If you have questions about the resources above or would like to be notified of upcoming series, contact molly@sustainablefoodcenter.org.

two women in food kitchen

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